Barriers to food shopping for older people

This blog was contributed by Gretel Jones, Policy Officer (Consumer Markets) at Age UK. 

Older people are an important and growing consumer group.  For the first time, there are more people aged over 65 than under 16 in the UK.  This growth in the older population is estimated to continue for the foreseeable future.

From a business point of view, older consumers are the only growing market there is.  Sadly, although the Government has recognised the implications of an ageing society on public services, the same does not seem to be the case for the private sector.  Many marketers do not understand or address the older population and consequently this is a segment that often gets misrepresented, neglected or ignored.

Difficulties in getting to the shops

Difficulties increased with age.  While only 8% of 60 to 64 year olds had difficulty this rose to 19% for the 80 to 84s and 60% for those aged over 90.  This is very relevant given it is the older older age group that is estimated to be the fastest growing segment of older people.  This of course is exacerbated for people living in rural areas where public transport links are so poor.  Also relevant to the journey is the difficulty older people have in carrying heavy shopping home.

Difficulties in the store

Poor store layout, poor lighting, aisles that are too narrow and lack of seating and toilet facilities can cause problems. Deep trolleys and freezers make it hard to get shopping out and it is hard to reach up to the top shelf or down to the bottom ones.  Size of fonts on shelf labels can be too small for them to see.

A new problem is lack of confidence in using the self-service checkouts which are bound to be on the increase.

Meeting the needs of older people

Ease of opening of packaging is a constant criticism from older people. Vacuum packs, opening tins and jars and childproof bottles are particularly problematic. But equally difficult is the food information on the packs.  Often in print that is too small and with insufficient colour contrasts makes it difficult to read.

About 37% of older people live alone.  But a lot of other age groups do as well and it is estimated that there will be an 18% growth in single-person households by 2031.  Yet food retailers seem to target larger households which often increases the costs of food shopping for smaller ones.

Age UK’s new report, Food Shopping in Later Life, gives details on six of the shopping services provided by local Age UKs that aim to help older people to shop.  It also makes a number of recommendations for retailers that would be helpful for older people.

Read our new report Food Shopping in Later Life

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